February 13, 2014

Eye on the Underdog

This is the first week since the Australian Open where many of the sport's top players are back in action, with six players in the ATP top ten taking the court one place or another. And while many of the favorites have survived and powered through their early opponents this week, it might be a couple of longshots who are scoring the more notable wins.

On the clay of Buenos Aires, David Ferrer made a winning return against qualifier Maximo Gonzalez while Viña Del Mar champion Fabio Fognini repeated Sunday's win over Leonardo Mayer to make the quarters. But perhaps the dark horse in this draw will be his next opponent Pablo Andujar, who really hasn't put up many big results over the last several months. But this week, back on his most successful surface -- his two career titles have come on the dirt -- he delivered a one-sided loss to fifth seed Marcel Granollers in their second round and could be poised to go farther. He lost his only Tour-level meeting with Fognini, though, on these courts in fact, but that was five years ago, and if he can take advantage of the Italian, who went over three hours against Mayer on Wednesday, he might be able to change that record.

There have been some surprises in Memphis too, even as world #17 Kei Nishikori advanced to the quarters with little drama. Still struggling Sam Querrey, champion here in 2010, lost his opener after winning a decisive first set and fifth seeded Marinko Matosevic dropped to 2013 Newcomer of the Year Jiri Vesely in straight sets. But the standouts in Tennessee might be a couple of old dogs with new tricks. Alex Bogomolov, one of the big comeback stories of 2011, but fell back down the rankings over the next several months. Now barely in the top hundred, he's come out on top of two three-set matches, beating Querrey in the first round and then taking down American Ryan Harrison yesterday. And Michael Russell, approaching thirty-five years of age, rallied past seventh seed Michael Przysiezny before handling Tim Smyczek to make the quarters. In his long career -- sixteen years as a pro -- he's never even made a singles final, but it sure would be nice to see him continue his fight this week.

But even more spoilers have emerged in Rotterdam, in a draw where top tier players like defending champion Juan Martin Del Potro and two-time Grand Slam titleist Andy Murray loom large as threats. Marin Cilic continued his comeback with a win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Wednesday and Jerzy Janowicz managed an upset of Zagreb finalist Tommy Haas earlier today. But maybe more threatening are barely unseeded Ernests Gulbis and Phillipp Kohlschreiber, neither of whom have lost a set on their way to the quarters. At #24 and #27 in the world, they promised to be spoilers from the start -- Gulbis has the tougher task ahead, facing DelPo next, while Kohlscreiber, who just wrapped up a fairly routine 4&4 win over Richard Gasquet will face either wildcard Igor Sijsling or qualifier Michael Berrer next, but either man could continue his streak.

With just a few weeks left before the next round of big tournaments, there might be no better time for all these guys to make these statements. And after their performances so far this week, you can't count any of them out, even against the most intimidating of foes.

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